Men’s Swimming: Stephens looking to go all in for senior year

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Daily file photo by Melody Song

Senior Chase Stephens is ready to unleash his fury in the water. Last year he placed seventh in the Big Ten Championships freestyle event.

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

At 6 feet 7 inches, senior Chase Stephens is the ideal height for a sprint swimmer. Yet early on in his career, he didn’t know how to use his body to his advantage.

“Back in my high school, they talked about how they couldn’t believe a 6-foot-8 guy doesn’t know how to swim yet,” Stephens said. “My stroke was horrendous. I definitely didn’t have the endurance I have now.”

But something clicked for Stephens late last season. He took everything he learned from previous leaders on the team and put it all together to complete the puzzle heading into the Big Ten Championships, where he finished seventh in the 100-meter freestyle and qualified for the NCAA Championships.

“I really thought it was go time,” Stephens said. “I thought it was my responsibility to step up and be role models for the team that we are going to be this year.”

The Madison, Wis., native didn’t get a lot of serious looks from Division 1 swimming programs coming out of high school. Two teams pursuing Stephens were the Wildcats and his hometown Wisconsin Badgers, representing the school that both his mother and father attended. After a difficult decision, Stephens picked Northwestern because of the opportunity to be on a smaller team and have a larger role. In addition, he didn’t know how good of a Big Ten swimmer he’d be, so having academics to fall back on was a major plus, he said.

But Stephens’ first two years in Evanston weren’t exactly kind to him. Although Stephens continued to improve, NU didn’t find a ton of success in the Big Ten Championships in 2010 and 2011.

“You learn a ton about how to lose and what it feels like to lose,” he said. “But then when you actually win, it’s well deserved.”

After his breakout performance last year, Stephens earned something else out of the pool: a scholarship. But receiving that gift from coach Jarod Schroeder was never about the money.

“It was more just for the spot on the team,” he said. “I was saying to myself that I could do this and keep up with some of the best swimmers we have at school.”

Schroeder and Stephens developed a special bond over the years because Schroeder was in the same situation as Stephens in college. Schroeder wasn’t a highly ranked recruit, but he walked onto the Northern Illinois program and earned a scholarship late in his career.

“It’s always great to get someone who’s not a highly touted recruit to come into your program and do something special,” Schroeder said. “And that’s what he’s done here.”

Even though he’s not listed as a captain, there’s no question Stephens will play a large leadership role this year. To make sure he wouldn’t suffer a letdown after last year’s accomplishments, he decided against doing an internship over the summer, like most of his teammates do, and chose to train and work a low-paying job on the side. For Stephens, 2013 is all or nothing.

“Let’s try and put all the chips in and see what happens,” he said. “I made sure that I had the right mindset and focus going into my senior year so hopefully I can leave a lasting imprint on the program for the next generations coming in.”

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Twitter: @John_Paschall

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